MOUNTAIN BOY MEETS CITY GIRL
Alexandros “Alecos” Constantinou Kralios was born on January 30, 1937, in Komotini, two and one-half hours east of Thessaloniki in northeastern Greece. Fani Niki Andreou Papadimitriou was born in the city of Athens on May 24, 1939. They share their experiences as medical doctors at the University of Athens in Greece and after 41 years at the University of Utah in the United States.
The family name was originally Vlastos (meaning blossom) but the name Kralios is a nickname given to Alecos’ great grandfather by the Serbians. His great grandfather migrated to Vranje, Serbia, from Elafotopos in Zagori and became an important landowner and was referred to as kralj (meaning “king” in Serbian) and thus the family name was changed.
Alecos’ parents were both born before their area of Greece was liberated from the Turkish Empire in 1912. His father, Constantinos, born in 1908, came from the mountain village of Elafotopos in Epirus Greecee and his mother, Kalliope, born in 1912, was from Sofides in Anatoliki Thraki (Thrace) closer to Constantinople. Both were teachers and met in the newly liberated western Thraki near Komotini. Alecos’ younger brother, Nicos, was born in 1940 on the day the Italians took their first hostile act against Greece. He also was a medical doctor, trained in the United States as a gastroenterologist. He died tragically in a mountaineering accident on Mt. Olympus at the age of 63.
In the spring of 1941, during the Nazi occupation, the family moved to the ancestral village of Elafotopos. They lived off the land as their ancestors had for 5000 years with no electricity or water in their homes. As an army officer, Constantinos was part of a clandestine guerrilla group who would pick up their guns at night and conduct sabotage raids against the Germans, then return to their daily lives. Alecos remembers his father coming home unshaven and in tattered clothing after a long absence. The family home was spared as there was some safety in the isolated mountain villages while surrounding areas experienced German raids and bombardment.
As World War II ended, the family moved back to Komotini in 1945 where Alecos had his ﬁrst experience with electricity and indoor water and plumbing. Then, during the Greek civil war, Komotini was attacked several times and ﬁghting in the streets was a regular event. As the school buildings were occupied by refugees from the countryside, classes were held only once a week. Constantinos, who had served as a resistance fighter, was arrested and exiled for several months but was also decorated for his bravery during the war.
At age 11 Alecos and his family moved to Athens where his mother experienced some health problems and his father worked as a grade school teacher. While somewhat behind in school due to the civil war impact, he was a good student and completed examinations for medical school at the age of 17. He ﬁnished medical school in 1960 at age 23 and began a three-year term of service in the Greek army. His obligation was reduced to 18 months when he began working in his specialty of internal medicine and cardiology at the University in Athens. It was there where he met Fani, his future wife. They were married in 1965 and had their first child, Karini, on April 29, 1968.
A set of events, including the coup by the Greek military junta in 1967, led to the couple’s emigration to the United States for postdoctoral work. Doctors were required to serve in villages, a move that would curtail Alecos’ research career. As his family was not sympathetic to the coup, there was little choice in the matter. Alecos’ first mentor in Greece was associated with Dr. Willem Kolff who invented the artificial kidney. Dr. Kolff had moved from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to work on the artificial heart. Dr. Kolff wrote to the United States consulate in Athens requesting that Alecos, because of his exceptional talent and having conducted similar research, be granted a visa to come to Salt Lake City. With blessings of the United States government but with the coup in power, Alecos could obtain visas only for himself and Fani but not for their newborn daughter. In August of 1968, the couple reluctantly left Karini with her grandparents and made the trip to Utah. Fortunately, Karini joined them a few months later when a colleague could bring her to Salt Lake City.
Fani, the only child of Andreas and Ekaterini Papadimitriou, was born in Athens. Andreas had attended law school but chose banking for his profession and eventually obtained an important position with the National Bank of Greece. Ekaterini was a housewife caring for her daughter. The family, along with Fani’s yiayia (grandmother) and thea (aunt), shared the top flat of an apartment complex in the Platia Attikis neighborhood of Athens. Fani recalls little of the civil war except that 15-20 guerrillas would come to sleep in their home every night during the winter. Her mother made fur hats for the ﬁghters and her thea embroidered the word ELAS (acronym for Greek Popular Liberation Army) on the hats. Fani was schooled mostly at home and entered the third grade in public school, ahead of her peers. At 11 years old her parents sent her to high school at Orlinda Pierce College (now the four-year Deree College) from where she graduated at age 17. After that experience, some perceived her as an American. She had learned French and played the piano but had given little consideration to further education except that she had a strong interest in chemistry.
One day, Alecos met Fani while walking to an event and began talking with her. As Alecos was in medical school at the time and learned of her interest in chemistry, he encouraged her to consider medical school. She followed his suggestion and, after a year of tutoring, passed the examinations for medical school. Her specialty has been in pediatric cardiology. When they moved to Salt Lake City, Fani felt very uncomfortable with no job and without her baby. The following summer of 1969 she was offered a position at the University when a resident had to leave for Viet Nam. Once Karini joined her, Fani was the ﬁrst married woman with a child and pregnant with a second to work in the hospital. Alecos says his colleagues were “rolling their eyes” in disbelief as Fani was a pioneer for women in her field at that time.
SALT LAKE CITY TO SEATTLE
It took some time to adjust in Salt Lake City. Used to walking, they found traversing the wide thoroughfares much different from negotiating the narrow streets of Athens. While walking for their errands, they remember being offered rides as driving was the common means of moving about the city.
For the next 41 years they raised their children while continuing their medical research. Their second child, Constantinos “Dean” was born on September 1, 1970, and Andreas “Andy”, on November 20, 1972. They both live in Washington, Dean an architect in Seattle and Andy a lawyer in Tacoma. Although not regular churchgoers, they did establish friendships with other Greeks by attending the Greek Orthodox Church and teaching Greek school. They enjoyed hiking, skiing and camping until Fani broke her ankle. Thoughts of returning to Greece were interrupted with “offers Alecos could not refuse” which included several grants, public funding and salary increases. In Greece, they might receive free education for their children and notable status as doctors but would not have the research opportunities that exist in the United States.
As their children grew and left home and retirement became possible, Alecos and Fani considered leaving Salt Lake City and living closer to their children and four grandchildren. Karini was living in Boulder, Colorado, and Dean and Andy had moved to Washington state. When visiting Seattle, they found the air much cleaner and fresher than that in the geological “bowl” of Salt Lake City. They retired in 2002 and moved to Seattle in 2009 when their grandson, Xander, was born. They now live in a condominium with a view of the water, within easy walking distance of entertainment and shopping. They are also close to two of their four grandchildren. They usually walk or use the bus but rarely use their cars, one of which is Alecos’ pristine 1991 Porsche Carrera. Alecos and Fani still have homes in Greece in which they stay during the summer and from which they travel extensively. They regularly visit their daughter in Colorado and relatives in the San Francisco Bay area of California.
Alecos is an American by invitation and choice and sees himself equally or more American than those born in America. Instead of spelling his first name with a “k” he uses the letter “c” which does not exist in the Greek alphabet but is more easily understood in America.
Acknowledging his distinct accent, Alecos tells a story about Jackie Kennedy who married the Greek ship owner Aristotle Onassis. With Alecos’ Greek accent, it came out “sheep” owner. When asked how this wealthy widow would marry this unattractive Greek sheep owner he replied, “that’s what I said.”
When their son Dean asked why he didn’t go to seminary like his Mormon friends, Alecos reminded him of his Greek names (Constantine and Alexander) and their historical significance. Dean also wonders how his parents could have met and married without the traditional proxenio (arranged marriage) as was the custom in Greece.
For Alecos, if you are born in Greece you are simply Elathitis, (inhabitant of Greece). However, real “Greekness” comes from the bottom up beginning with dancing, then eating, then from the heart and ﬁnally with the brain. As for their children, they were given a balanced exposure to their Greek heritage and their Church along with the American environment in which they were raised. Alecos believes that if it had not been for the Greek Orthodox Church, Greeks would be totally scattered and assimilated in the United States. While the United States was founded on the Greek principles of democracy, the direct involvement in citizenry and public affairs has diminished. Simply voting is not enough.By John and Joann Nicon, November, 2017 VIDEO SEGMENTS PHOTOS 1 Alecos and Fani, 2017
2 Alecos’ parents, Constantinos and Kalliope, 1973
3 Alecos, 1999
4 Fani’s parents, Andreas and Ekaterini, 1973
5 Alecos and Fani, circa 1966
6 Kralios family (l-r) Dean, Alecos, Fani, Andy, Karini, 1970s
7 Kralios family (l-r) Karini, Fani, Dean, Alecos, Andy, 1973
8 Alecos and Fani at the Taj Mahal, 2005
9 Kralios family (l-r) rear: Dean, Sean Mitchel, Andy, Liz Lunde, Scott Patlow; middle: Fani, Alecos, Karini; children: Kosmas, Xander, Melina, Elena, 2015
Photo 1 by John Nicon, 2, 4 and 6 by Terashima of Salt Lake City; all others from Kralios famiy collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, June 2017